©1999 - 2012
Edward D. Reuss
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Retired Sergeant Clarence Semple, NYPD died the other day. Clarence and I worked in the 4th Precinct back in the early '60s. 

Patrolman Clarence Semple was not a happy pilgrim when I first met him. He had recently been transferred from the 9th Precinct in the East Village to the 4th Precinct. He was one of a few black cops assigned to the 4th Precinct in those days. I remember Clarence as always being courteous and fair with the public. He was deceptively quiet though. When situations developed where physical force was necessary, Clarence was a good man to have on your side. He handled himself well in the street. He was a big guy who played football as a kid. His face wasn't the stuff of matinee idols, but his rough appearance belied his true nature. He was a gentleman.

In February of l965, the Harbor Bar located in the confines of the 4th Precinct was designated a " raided premises". It stood on the corner of Spring and Greenwich Streets in Manhattan on the border of the old Washington Street Market. It was out of the way and attracted little attention. It had been a neighborhood bar frequented by workers from the Market and the truckers who came into the area.  Recently, the Harbor Bar had taken on a different clientele. Most of the new patrons of the bar were gay. There were a number of such "raided premises" in the First Division of Manhattan in those years. There were at least three others in Manhattan's Greenwich Village area within the confines of the 6th Precinct. 

An arrest was made inside the Harbor Bar. When an arrest for a public morals offense took place in a Bar and Grill or Cabaret, part of the police procedure would be to have that location designated as a " raided premises". The Commanding Officer of the precinct of record would be notified of the arrests and directed to assign uniformed police officers to the licensed premises during the hours of operation.  Public Morals Units enforced laws which in other jurisdictions would be called "vice laws" including prostitution, gambling, and related offenses. In this case, the related offense involved public morals offenses by gay males and lesbians. In l965, the crime of Consensual Sodomy and the lesser offense of Loitering for immoral purposes were still in the Penal Law of the State of New York.

Patrol Borough Manhattan South was the premier assignment for a "rising star" in the NYPD.  The precinct commanders were on the track for higher promotion. The civil service system of the City of New York only provided promotional exams to the rank of Captain of police.  The higher ranks of the NYPD from Deputy Inspector to Chief of Department were appointed positions. All ranks of upper management were "captains of police" serving in the higher position. They served at the pleasure of the Mayor, which meant that they could be demoted back to their civil service rank of captain. Whenever there was a change in administration, the new Mayor would appoint his own police commissioner. There would be the usual "purge" with most of upper management submitting their retirement papers, and a whole new galaxy of rising stars would emerge from the ranks of captains.  In this manner, a Mayor could quickly gain control of the management of the NYPD by filling the managerial ranks with his own men who owed allegiance to him for their tenure.  A captain that had the correct political connections could rise quickly to command positions under this system.  There were definite benefits to such a system, but there was also a down side.  Political pressure and nepotism could get ugly when students of Machiavelli's "The Prince" could create their own fiefdoms of power by seeding the various units under their command with their own appointees.

In the contest for promotion to higher rank, a negative evaluation of a "rising star" captain could be devastating to his career.  When a "raided premises" notice was given to a precinct commander, it could reflect badly on his supervision of his precinct.  How could such a condition exist in a properly supervised precinct? The current Commanding Officer of the 4th Precinct was in no way a "rising star".  He was an old-timer who was close to retirement and could be counted on to "fall on his sword" if necessary.
I was assigned to the Harbor Bar a number of times.  Cops who were assigned to a "raided premises" were given a set of instructions and a Department form (UF 107) to prepare. Those instructions reiterated the Alcoholic Beverage Control Laws of the State of New York that proscribed certain conduct within licensed premises.  Subsequent violations could result in the revocation of the owner's license. In addition, the cops maintained a log of police action taken and post changes of police personnel assigned to the location. Ranking officers would sign their names whenever they visited. 

A large white sign with the words, "Raided Premises, by order of the New York City Police Department" was posted in the front window of the bar to be plainly seen from the street.  The cop assigned had to remain inside at the entrance to the bar. The officer would report to the bar in uniform with the sign and logbook and spend the tour at the entrance keeping a running count of the patrons.  He also was to prevent any public morals violations from taking place. The Rules and Procedures of the NYPD weren't too specific on how a cop was to prevent that. The only conduct that could be monitored was same-sex dancing.  That was relatively easy to enforce because dancing wasn't allowed at all in a bar and grill.  The laws specified that a cabaret license was required for dancing.  The Harbor Bar had no such license.

The patrons were quite cooperative and seemed to welcome the presence of the uniformed officer. Although I was still an inexperienced police officer, I began to realize I was, in reality, providing security for the bar at the expense of the New York City taxpayers.  The large raided premises sign conspicuously displayed in the front window seemed like an advertisement. I don't think that any Madison Avenue advertising firm could have done a better job drawing business to the location.

During the tour of duty in the raided premises, the cop assigned would keep a running head count to ensure that the occupancy laws were not violated.  The number of patrons that could legally occupy the bar at any one time was to be strictly enforced. This had a double benefit for the bar. First, there was no overcrowding and this lent an air of decorum to the premises. Second, the line of patrons outside waiting on the sidewalk created the impression that this was indeed an exclusive club.  At times, lines of rented limousines jockeyed for position with the yellow taxis that were constantly pulling up with customers.  Doormen maintained order as impatient patrons waited in the cold. The officer was to observe the conduct of the patrons of the bar and to take "police action when necessary".    At least that was the official rationale for the procedure. The alleged purpose was to prevent public premises from being used for immoral purposes. Since homosexual acts were forbidden by the Penal Law of the State of New York, the police were put in the unenviable position of supervising the moral conduct of a group that felt itself under attack by a society that still prohibited oral sex between consenting adults. Consensual Sodomy was a crime in the State of New York.  The law applied to married heterosexual couples as well. 

I often reflect on the wisdom of having uniformed cops present in such locations.  I think that much disrespect for the law is bred by poor legislation.  Laws that are designated "victimless crimes" create much mischief for the police.  Since there are no complainants, the police themselves must initiate the action resulting in criminal charges. For instance, in minor statutes such as Patronizing a Prostitute or Loitering for Prostitution Offenses, who is the complainant? The police enter the picture when they assign female police officers to pose as prostitutes and provide the "means or opportunity" for patrons of prostitutes to offer a fee for services and thereby be arrested.  The women police officers that dress in sexy clothing and role-play as hookers may have interesting duty, but I for one would prefer those cops be used to collar the pimps who prey on unfortunate hookers who have been enslaved in the sex business.  The pimps terrorize, abuse, and often murder the drug dependent young women who walk the mean streets in the dead of winter dressed in skimpy clothing.  The more the police arrest and pressure the street hookers, the more status the pimp has among the women. He bails them out when they are arrested and sees that they quickly return to the streets. If the police started to collar the pimps and seize their "pimp-mobiles" under the civil forfeiture procedures, I would say we would be on the right track. But that is the subject for another day.

On a certain evening, Patrolman Clarence Semple was assigned to the Harbor Bar and sat at the entrance and was prepared for a long tour. The Harbor Bar was packed with the maximum number of patrons.  Clarence sat at the entrance and saw a small group of men enter who were obviously members of the NYPD. The cops were in civilian clothes and looked out of place with their suits and ties.  The mandatory snap-brimmed fedoras completed their uniform.  They identified themselves but seemed distant and unfriendly towards the uniformed cop. The noise of the music and patrons made it difficult to hear.

In the crowded bar, they proceeded to loudly question Semple about the patrons and the conditions that existed inside the bar.  The insinuation seemed to be that he was allowing unlawful conditions to go on unchecked.   The ranking officer demanded that Clarence check out the toilet and ensure that no immoral acts were taking place. He stood over the humiliated cop and had him take a headcount of the number of patrons inside the bar.  He then refused to accept the headcount and had him do it a second time. The behavior of the police supervisor did not go unnoticed by the gay patrons. The dressing down of the black cop in a crowded raided premises was a mistake. To publicly humiliate a uniformed police officer was always a cardinal sin. To do so in a location like a raided premises was an added insult. The gays were shocked into silence by the insulting display of conduct that violated every rule of supervision.   Someone dropped a dime to Headquarters.  In the end, there was a series of cross allegations by various commands. The fallout from the accusations resulted in transfers of cops and others put their retirement papers in.

It wasn't long before the policy of enforcing public morals offenses and instituting "raided premises" would come to a violent end. In the 6th Precinct, the now-famous incident known as the "Stonewall Riots" was the watershed incident that finally put an end to such practices. Early in the morning of June 28, l969, the Stonewall Inn, one of the largest and most popular gay bars in Greenwich Village, became the scene of confrontations between the gay community and the police.  The disturbances that went on for a number of successive nights led to the formation of the committees that organized the Gay Pride Parade up 6th Avenue. This year is the 30th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. There are conflicting accounts of what caused the incident, but that is a story for another day.

Eventually, the policy of "raided premises" was discontinued as court decisions declared many of the public morals statutes to be unconstitutional. The use of the police to monitor the morality of citizens by enforcement of vice laws continues to be a burden as well as a corruption hazard for the police.

Years later, Patrolman Semple was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and he and I again served together in the 120th Precinct on Staten Island.  He was a decent man and a good cop who deserved more respect than he received that night in the raided premises so long ago.

©Copyright  l999 Edward D. Reuss



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